Dear Miss Manners:
Over the years, I've noticed a growing trend in the media in which female performers are now referred to as "actors" rather than "actresses." I read it constantly in magazines and newspapers, whether it be gossip columns, biographies or obituaries, and hear it all the time on TV, where the interviewer will ask the female celebrity, "When did you decide to become an actor?"
Also I've noticed women are now "hosts" rather than "hostesses" at events, and are referred to as "comedians" rather than "comediennes." When did these changes become correct, if, indeed, they are?
Miss Manners has noticed these changes, too, and while they are neither incorrect nor mandatory, she doesn't quite like them. It seems to her that they achieve the opposite purpose of that which is intended.
The nomenclature we have been using for ladies and gentlemen of various professions is the haphazard result of meandering tradition. That's the way it is with many things in the charmingly wayward discipline of etiquette.
Why has it been considered dignified to call women actresses and hostesses, but belittling to call them poetesses or lady-doctors? Miss Manners can't tell you. Stodgy as she is, she is not for changing just for the sake of uniformity. But if there has to be change, she would rather it be in the direction of establishing more female titles, rather than making the male ones universal.
Miss Manners's intent here would be the same as those going in the opposite direction--to make the point that ladies are just as legitimately members of the profession as gentlemen. But it strikes her that using only masculine titles says symbolically that these are jobs for gentlemen, although they may now be filled by ladies, while using both puts the factor of gender with the job-holder, rather than the job itself, which should be gender-neutral.
Dear Miss Manners:
My grandmother just passed away. My older sister--I am 15--feels we shouldn't have to go to the funeral because our grandmother never made an effort to get to know us. I think we should go because if she hadn't been the mother to our father, we wouldn't be here. Therefore we should have some respect for her, right?
Your sister is operating on the practical level at which many people try to live their lives nowadays--assessing the extent of any relationship as if there were no considerations other than compatibility.
Miss Manners congratulates you on the wisdom of understanding that deeper considerations are involved. To assume you can assess your duty to your grandmother merely on her personal merits, or lack of them, is naive. Cuddly or aloof, she was your grandmother, and while she did not win your love, that fact merits your respect.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions except through this column.